Herminia Ibarra , Professor of Organizational Behavior, and Faculty Director of the INSEAD Leadership Initiative, contests that we learn to lead in relationship, by becoming a part of a community and network of leaders, but what we preach, however, is very different.
Let’s draw some inferences by considering a few schools of thought:
Situational leadership, — originally conceived as the antidote to the great man theories of leadership. The situational school brought us the notion of “fit:” person to situation and leader to follower. The original version said the situation makes the leader. The simpler version we retained says something else altogether, that good leaders choose among the leadership styles or change strategies in their repertoire the one that best matches their current situation.
Discover your strengths — another great example of a one-sided and static focus on personal attributes that make people effective leaders. According to this theory, we can categorize ourselves according to a number of themes and clusters of themes that describe our strengths; once identified, they help us make decisions about what situation best match us.
Practice — From Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers to Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated we learn about the magic rule of 10,000 hours. Bill Gates, we are told, became a computer wiz because he had access to an early computer and was able to clock the requisite number of hours. Putting in the hours, not innate talent, makes the leader.
Prof. Ibarra’s research on how effective managers make the transition to bigger, broader leadership roles and cements their contribution to the growth and transformation of their organization, incorporates 4 key enablers:
o Motivate the transition to leadership. When asked to do things that don’t come naturally, we implicitly ask ourselves “am I the sort of person who behaves this way?” “Do I want to be that sort of person?”. When managers’ identification is rooted in functional groups or expert communities, the answers are negative when it comes to leadership, and thus it is no surprise that they do not sustain the arduous practice it takes to develop as leaders. On the other hand, when they identify with recognized leaders, learning to lead is motivated by the desire to become a member of a valued group.
o Make the “competencies” come alive. One of the difficult things about learning to lead is distinguishing between “what” (content knowledge) and “how to” (process knowledge). We may know, for example, that “sensing external trends” is a critical competency in forging a strategic direction, and we may also want to become more like the leaders we know who are very good at that. But, how does one actually learn to strategize? In a successful learning cycle, role models, peer groups and communities of practice motivate change by changing our reference point on what is desirable and possible, and then once motivated, providing tacit knowledge on how to do it.
o Experiment from the outside in. Many aspiring leaders struggle to stretch their leadership within their current organization and roles. Caught in between delivery pressures and outdated views of their capacities, they more quickly or easily find roles outside the organization that allow them to lead. Their new activities, in professional organizations, clubs, informal advisory and so on, create external identities that they eventually internalize.
o Build external support & networks to sustain change. Often it is hard to get support for change from old mentors, bosses or trusted colleagues. They may have good intentions but maintain of what we can and should do that are based in the past and not the future. People and groups, on the fringe of our existing networks help us push off in new directions while providing the secure base in which change can take hold, one of the reasons why learning methods like peer coaching are so powerful.